Eyes in the Night

I had just crawled into bed last night to read In Cold Blood until I got sleepy, when I heard an awful yowling in my back yard. It was more than a little startling, particularly since I was reading Perry Smith’s confession. John was still in the living room watching TV and apparently couldn’t hear the sounds; however, my bedroom window was open and the noise was loud and clear. It was a series of short, harsh, somewhat high-pitched sounds, a cross between a yowl and a bark. And LOUD. (To hear what I heard, go to this site – vulpes.org – and click on FOX-TERRITORY-CALL.WAV.)

I put on my robe, grabbed a flashlight and went out on the deck. As I played the light around my back yard and my neighbors’, I suddenly saw a brilliant green light in the rear of the yard next door. When I focused the flashlight’s beam, the green light became two lights that were as bright as halogen lamps. Occasionally they’d shift slightly, or go out for a second, and I realized I was watching some kind of animal. I called to John to bring me the binoculars, and while he held the light, I took a good look at the critter.

In addition to those spookily bright eyes, I saw a pair of sharply pointed ears in a furry face. It moved then, and I saw a pale chest and dark legs. “It’s a red fox,” I told John. This wasn’t the first time we’d had a fox in the yard – a couple years ago we came home one afternoon to find a large turkey vulture in the middle of our back yard. This was surprising enough, but when I scared the bird off I found that it was picking at a red fox carcass. I’ve also found fox tracks crossing the back yard after a snowfall.

John moved the flashlight’s beam around the area, and suddenly picked up a pair of bright RED eyes. Before I could get the binoculars focused on them, there was a sudden movement, more yowling and both sets of eyes were gone. We could hear scrambling in the brush in rear of our yard now, as if the animals had gone behind our tool shed.

Neither John nor I was inclined to go back there and see what was up. Foxes are a major rabies carrier in Virginia, as are racoons, and I was a bit afraid that the second set of eyes was either a ‘coon or another fox. We went back inside and left them to their own devices.

Since ours is an older neighborhood, we’ve got a good bit of wildlife, but I swear it’s becoming wilder every season. When we first moved here over eight years ago, we had plenty of birds, squirrels and the occasional chipmunk or vole. However, about three years ago, several acres of nearby woods were cleared for development, and suddenly we’re getting rabbits, racoons, deer and foxes. I guess they’re “displaced.” It’s sort of sad that they have to eke out a living in a suburban backyard, but I sure hope we don’t end up with foxes denning under our tool shed.

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